Shanai Haana Matteson (b. 1982) is an artist, writer, mother, activist, and cultural community organizer who currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She’s passionate about many things… Especially art and culture that serves the goals of social and environmental justice, water equity, cultural and climate resilience, indigenous resurgence and leadership by native people and other people of color, and advancing women’s leadership and feminist economies.
Shanai creates collaborative public art projects, documentary films, literary work (poetry and essays) as well as social spaces that are all rooted in ecologies of place, as well as our social and political entanglements.
Through her creative and community life, Shanai seeks to transform her own relationships while encouraging communities and cultures of reciprocity, kinship, self-determination, and collective care.
Originally from the small working-class town of Palisade in northern Aitkin County, Shanai spends much of her time in Northeastern Minnesota with her family and community. Though she is active in her northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, she will always consider the Mississippi River headwaters and northland her home. Her family is an important source inspiration, encouraging her to integrate the loving work of raising children with active participation in community life, and ongoing struggles for economic, racial, and environmental justice.
She is co-founder and collaborative director of Water Bar & Public Studio, an artist-led benefit corporation that serves water to build relationships that transform culture. Prior to founding Water Bar in 2014, she and her collaborator Colin Kloecker led the nationally-recognized public art and design collective Works Progress. As Works Progress Studio, Shanai and her partners organized dozens of socially-engaged art spaces and events, and were founding members of the national network Common Field. Shanai co-organized the 2015 Hand-in-Glove Conference (now Common Field Convening) in Minneapolis, as well as related efforts to advance the field of artist-led organizations.
Shanai was one of the designers and curators of the City Art Collaboratory program of Public Art Saint Paul, a groundbreaking fellowship and think tank for artists and scientists immersed in systems thinking and paradigm work. As a cultural organizer, Shanai continues to develop platforms for artists to research in collaboration with others, especially those working in the environmental sciences and water resource fields.
She is currently co-convener of the University of Minnesota-sponsored collaborative Ways of Knowing Water, and speaks frequently at conferences and public events about ways that art-science collaborations can advance water equity and climate resilience.
In addition to her work serving water and community through her own cultural and community projects, Shanai is active in other efforts to heal relationships between people, land, water, and place stories. She is a core partner in the indigenous-led Healing Place Collaborative, a group of artists, educators, researchers, and activists who play leadership roles in articulating the vital nature of the Mississippi River and indigenous leadership in the life of the Twin Cities - a Dakota place. Shanai also serves on the community advisory board (or fictive kinship) of Yo Mama’s House Cooperative, a regenerative space and network for women in their roles as mothers, artists, activists and healers, led by artist and elder Amoke Kubat.
Shanai and her collaborators have been featured in museum exhibitions, art spaces, and publications across the United States, but whenever possible, she prefers to work close to home. She is most interested in emergent and strategic arts activism at the margins of established fields and practices, and believes edges and intersections provide the most fertile ground for artists and others to learn and create together.
Shanai studied creative writing at the Perpich Center for Arts Education (2000), attended the University of Minnesota for Cultural Studies and History of Science (2005), and is an alum of the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) Art for Social Change program.
She was a Fellow in the Creative Community Leadership Institute at Intermedia Arts in 2011, received a 2013 Bush Fellowship for her arts and environmental leadership work, was the recipient of a 2014 River Stewards Emerging Leader Award from the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, and a 2018 Public Health Heroes Award from the City of Minneapolis. She is a 2018 McKnight Visual Arts Fellow.
As an artist, Shanai and her collaborators have been awarded grants and fellowships from Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Art Council, the McKnight Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Shanai is part of the Advisory Group for the US Water Alliance's new national project Advancing One Water Through Arts and Culture. She organized the 2018 Minnesota Artist Delegation to the One Water Summit, was a member of the Arts and Culture Delegation to the 2019 One Water Summit, and remains committed to connecting artists and others involved in water work locally, and across the United States.